The Mag Shack

You Bought Your First Pistol – Now What?

You bought your first pistol, Now what?


If you’ve been paying attention to the news, it’s been a banner season for the past 20-some-odd months for the firearms community. Each and every report coming out from industry organizations like the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the NRA, as well as the raw data from the FBI’s NICS portal show that the American public is in a frenzy of purchasing firearms, ammunition, magazines (hopefully from here at The Mag Shack!), and other accessories.

It’s not just the traditional, some say stereotypical, firearms purchasers either. A huge new demographic of Second Amendment supporters is entering the fray, spurred on by the perfect storm of a regime hostile to the right to keep and bear arms, the potential for civil unrest, and of course the thankfully-receding coronavirus pandemic. Regardless of motivation, a lot of new people are exercising their right to keep and bear arms. Big sellers like AR-15s are flying off the shelves, but the most common purchase is handguns and pistols. Whether it’s a GLOCK, a SIG Sauer, or a Heckler & Koch sidearm, everyone wants a good blaster at their side.

Enthusiasm for the right to keep and bear arms is great, and it’s something that should be encouraged. However, just buying a pistol and running down to the range is, to be blunt, an unwise course of action. There’s a bunch of things that need to be considered.

The best way to sum it up is – “You bought your first pistol, now what?”

Chances are, your new pistol purchase came with the basics. The firearm itself, a few magazines, probably a gun lock, a manual, and something calling itself a cleaning kit. In theory, the gun is good to go. In reality? Not so much.

The most important thing to consider with your first pistol, of course, is how to properly use it. After properly clearing the weapon, read the manual. Yes, it seems a little “nerdy”, but to be blunt, a pistol isn’t a Playstation. It’s a tool, which if misused, can contribute to severe injuries and even loss of life. The pistol’s manual should cover the basic manual of arms for the firearm, along with instructions on how to take it down for cleaning and maintenance, along with basic precautionary statements specific to the gun.

Along those same lines, the next step should be seeking out proper education. As foolish as it would be to attempt to teach oneself to drive a car, no one should be self-taught with regard to handling a firearm. Your local gun range may offer classes, and if not, should have advice on whom to talk to about getting some training. A good starting point is the NRA-endorsed Basics Of Pistol Shooting (BOPS) course. It’s definitely a “Guns 101” class, and perfect for the new pistol owner.

Once you’ve settled the educational matters, the next steps will seem a lot easier.

For example, ammunition selection. That pistol you just purchased is just a rather odd-looking paperweight unless you have the ammunition to feed it with. However, all ammunition is definitely not created equal. There’s a few things you’ll need to know to get situated with regards to ammo.

  • Caliber – Thankfully, most pistols are clearly marked with what caliber ammunition they will accept. 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP are the most common that you’ll see. However, when purchasing your ammunition, always double-check you are getting the correct ammunition for your gun. There’s a whole world of calibers out there, and it can be easy to mix them up when purchasing. For example, 9x19mm, what we commonly call just “9mm”, can be mixed up with a strange Russian caliber called “9x18mm Makarov”. Note – this will not function in your 9mm pistol. Don’t even try to force it, either. Just triple-check your purchase.
  • Full Metal Jacket vs Hollow Point – When perusing those ammo shelves, you’ll see a whole spectrum of bullet types, but the two main “groups” are Full Metal Jacket, aka FMJ, and hollow point, aka HP. The difference is simple really. An FMJ round is a soft metal projectile completely encased in a harder jacket. It’s what comes to mind when most people think “bullet”. An HP round is a little more sophisticated. The projectile has a “pit” in the tip of the bullet, which causes it to expand when hitting a target. Typically FMJ rounds are for training use, as they are cheaper, whereas HP rounds are designed for defensive use, as their expansion characteristics lead to incapacitating a target faster. Plus, hollow points by their very nature are less likely to over-penetrate, i.e. hit a target and keep going. Remember, you’re responsible for every bullet that leaves your gun, no matter where it stops.
  • Brands – With training, one can be a little more flexible with ammunition selection. Whether it’s imported steel-cased ammo or domestic brass-cased ammo, as long as it goes “bang”, you should be good to go. With defensive ammo, remember that this will be the ammunition you are trusting your life to. There are all sorts of wild and exotic ammunition out there, but most of that hasn’t been proven in real-world testing or duty use. The best bet is to stick to major known brands of domestic or European origin. Brands like Speer, Federal Premium, Hornady, Sierra, Winchester, and Black Hills are preferable. All of the above have been in the business for decades, or longer, and know their science. Again, your life depends on your ammunition.

OK, you’ve got your pistol, some magazines for it, and some ammunition picked out. You’ve got some training and you’re getting ready to actually carry the gun out into the real world. Shoving it in your waistband is a recipe for disaster though. So, you’re going to need a holster.

Much like ammunition, there’s a whole universe of holsters out there, from numerous companies, big and small. However, for daily carry, there are a few things to consider.

  • Buy a holster made for your specific gun and its configuration. You’ll see a lot of on-sale specials for so-called universal holsters, which are basically just chunks of padded fabric that can accept a firearm. Stay far away from those. Look for a holster for your specific gun. If it has an optic or light attached to it, the holster must specifically accept those accessories as well.
  • The holster should be rigid and not flexible in any way. Typically this means the holster is made of a plastic material called Kydex. Form-fitted by a heat process, a Kydex holster is precisely molded to your pistol.
  • Retention. The holster must retain the firearm and release it only when it is drawn with authority. A good spot check is to place your (unloaded please!) firearm in the holster, turn it upside down, and see if it moves or drops free. If it stays put, the retention is acceptable. More sophisticated holsters will have an active retention system where a button must be pressed to release the firearm. Make sure the holster stays in its place on your hip. Also along those lines, get a real gun belt if you plan on carrying.

As you become competent with the basics of your first pistol, you’ll find that you may start to outgrow certain features of it. Often, the first thing people think of upgrading is the sights. Most pistols from name manufacturers ship with a decent set of factory iron sights. However, technology has been on the march for a moment. Once a “tactical toy”, red dot sighting systems are now becoming standard, even for the beginner. The principle is simple, a small red dot is projected up onto a small piece of glass situated into an attached housing secured to the slide of the firearm. Much like the heads-up display in a fighter jet or luxury car, the dot appears to drift in the air. Properly zeroed-in, a red-dot sight provides a marked advantage over traditional iron sights, in that one only needs to focus on one point of aim rather than three. However, if you previously trained on traditional sights, a red-dot does take some getting used to. That being said, a quality red-dot can often cost as much as the gun itself, so it may be a down-the-line purchase.

With those pieces settled, you’re ready to train. Holster, pistol, ammo, maybe a decent red dot sight, and skills. You’re going to start eating up some ammo, finally. Worth noting though is that your pistol is doing something pretty stressful – it’s containing a small explosion and directing the force in a given direction. Your pistol is a wonder of modern engineering, but it’s not impervious to the laws of physics. Things wear out and need maintenance and replacement.

Much like a motor vehicle, a little preventative maintenance goes a long way. After every range trip, it’s a good recommendation to clean your pistol according to the methods proscribed in the manual. Step one should always be clearing your firearm of any live ammunition. Make sure it’s impossible for any ammo to make it into your firearm during the cleaning and function check process.

There’s a ton of cleaning solutions and lubricants on the market. Good brands include Hoppe’s, Breakthrough Clean, and Break-Free. Generally, a good practice is to use the solvent to remove the carbon fouling, copper residue from the bullet jackets, and unburnt powder. Follow that up with lubrication on the “working surfaces” of your pistol, i.e. wherever metal moves over metal or plastic. While you’re there, check the function of the trigger, recoil spring, and other moving parts. Check for cracks and unusual wear on critical components like the barrel. If you see a crack in anything, bring your firearm to a competent gunsmith for service. FYI – this is why you should have a backup pistol as well. If your main gun is down for service, you want something to use in the meantime.

Along those lines, worth noting is that you aren’t carrying your gun 24/7. Sleeping with it under the pillow is ill-advised and not recommended. So, you’ll need a place to keep your firearm. Fortunately, there’s plenty of options nowadays, that recognize the need to secure unattended guns, along with the need for rapid access in case of an emergency. In this case, it’s wise to do your research with regards to a proper security container or safe for your pistol and other firearms. A lot of the “off-brand” bedside safes can be defeated with a $2 magnet or a stout hammer.

Worth noting is that technically, most “gun safes” aren’t really safes at all. They are classified as “security containers”. In the industry, a “true safe” is what you imagine a safe as – a big hulking chunk of steel and iron. True safes cost thousands of dollars and weigh thousands of pounds. To be fair, that’s a graduate-level purchase. If you’re just looking for a place to keep your pistol at night and away from casual tinkering by untrained persons, a decent biometric container will do the trick. Brands like Vaultek and Hornady typically receive favorable reviews.

The things needed to be addressed after purchasing your first pistol may seem daunting at first. Add that to the fact that by arming yourself, you’re assuming a grave responsibility in addition to exercising an inherent right. However, unlike most “learning curves”, the process of really getting on point with your new pistol can be fun and rewarding. Making a ragged hole in a piece of paper at the range from 20 yards away puts a smile on everyone’s face.

Be safe, learn your new acquisition, and most of all, enjoy the process. Welcome aboard.